Tag Archives: Mental Health

Cutting Out Caffeine: One Week to Less Anxiety

It’s been a weird week.

I cut out caffeine.

Why did I do it? Well, I’m an addict you see. An addict, hooked on one of the last remaining socially acceptable chemicals.

I was so bad that I used to get coffee every morning before work, from fancy coffee places. My coffee was sweet, but my bank account was bitter! I was drinking 3-4 cups while I was at work. I was relying on it for focus, for energy and just to keep me moving.

And I was suffering from a whole range of anxiety related problems. Palpitations, chest tightness, muscle tightness, somatic paint, the list goes on and on.

Now, if you’ve been following my blog, I’ve been trying to tackle my mental health difficulties in a whole host of different ways. I’ve been eating vegan, meditating a lot, trying to follow my bliss, and lately, embarking on acupuncture treatments and chiropractic manipulations. I’m really making a concerted effort to become healthy again.

Caffeine is my substance. It’s my vice. I’m naturally a bit slow, a little bit spacey, like an astronaut on the moon, but this jet fuel helps me stay in tow with a fast moving world.

But at what cost?

Health problems? Anxiety? Over stimulation?

I wanted to see what it would be like to take it all away, just for a week and see how it felt. I’ve spent so many years buzzing about like a hyperactive bumblebee that I had forgotten what it feels like to not have that dynamo drink powering me up as I go.

So what happened?

Well, at first, as you can imagine with any kind of caffeine withdrawal, I felt a bit off for a few days. Headaches, lethargy etc. You know, the usual stuff.

But then, I really began to acclimatise and I noticed a couple of things.

I was eating more.

Something about caffeine suppressed my appetite enough that it was extremely noticeable when I took it away. I was eating more food and also food which was less good for me. So, in theory, that’s 1 for coffee and 0 for me.

I was spaced out all the time.

I was in a bubble. I felt like Kanye in Katy Perry’s E.T. video. And the strangest thing was that this never really wore off. I am naturally away with the fairies. I shouldn’t be so surprised, but I was surprised. I hadn’t felt like that in an age. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it put some things into perspective for me.

I work in an office. I don’t absolutely love my job, but I get by. But without caffeine, and me in my natural state, floating around like a bubble princess, I really began to realise how poorly suited I am for this kind of work. So many distractions, so many noises. So much shifting gears between activities and getting sidetracked. For me, bubble boy, this was a nightmare. I felt like I was the light silver ball in 3D Pinball, waiting for anything to space bar me into the stratosphere. Remember that game on Windows 98? What a time to be alive.

The most unpleasant side effect was anhedonia. If you don’t know what this is, it’s a total lack of interest in doing anything, even things you used to love or enjoy. It kind of fed into my realisation that my work was so unsuitable for my type of brain wiring. I was so tired with my job, tired with the same old cycle of Monday to Friday. Stopping the stimulant made this much more apparent. It was kind of amazing the extent to which I had been relying on coffee to hold my depression at bay.

In hindsight, I’m really trying not to beat myself up over this vice. My body craved it because my brain just isn’t making enough good-feeling chemicals on its own. It’s not my fault. That was a really liberating realisation to come out of the process. I have dependencies because I’m just trying to cope with a biological imbalance made worse by the demands of a modern 9-5 administrative job, not suited to my brain.

It also made me realise how much I needed quiet and solitude. I like to read, but it’s impossible for me to do it in noisy places. I need a quiet and calm atmosphere to do that. I could manage slightly better with coffee, but without, it’s just really good to know that I should be managing my environment so that I can be more productive. Maybe in the future, freelancing will be best for someone like me, where I’m in control of my space and can make the most of quiet time.

On the flip side though, my anxiety was down massively. I didn’t realise how much it was having an effect on me throughout the day. To feel genuinely calm and relaxed was a blessing. Tranquillity I had not been able to access for many years. And in a way, since my anxiety cleared up, I was able to think more clearly about everything. To really stew over my thoughts, rather than bouncing between them and losing track. It’s been really positive to slow down the pace and sit with ideas for just a bit longer.

All in all, it’s been a mixed bag. Some things have become better and other worse. I got rid of a lot of anxiety, but I also became more spacey and depressed. But that state of mind allowed me to ruminate on what it is that I’m doing wrong in my life. How my job isn’t good for my type of mind. How I should find something I love to do, at a pace that suits me. How I’m trying to be someone I am not in a society where the norms don’t benefit me.

And I guess you’re wondering whether I’ll stay away from the stuff going forward. Well, as with most things in life, balance is key. I’m going to drink less of it, absolutely. I don’t want the reverberating, painful anxiety. But for the time being, I need to be able to focus a little in a job I am not suited for. Maybe a coffee in the morning and a cup of tea in the afternoon? No more caffeine after 4pm so I can sleep well? I think that sounds like balance to me.

J

Depression in the Eyes

A quick google search for ‘depressed eyes’ returns, to my amazement, eyes filled with anguish. Blubbering eyes, welling up with pain and steeped in comically exaggerated grimaces.

I find this perplexing.

Sure, depression for me has involved episodes of this pained expression, but for the most part, it’s something altogether worse. Something far more alarming, sinister and uncanny.

It’s the deadness. The total lack of spirit. The unending, unfathomable pit in the pupil, which reaches into the abyss.

For me, depression in the eyes is captured by a total lack of light. Like unspeakable black opals of drowning depth.

It’s one of the best ways I can tell if someone is drowning in anhedonia, the symptom of a total loss of enjoyment in life. You don’t have to ask someone, you can see it there, in their eyes.

I think having persistent depression is part of the reason I look into people’s eyes when I speak to them. They give away so much on the face. I have always become fixated by them as a well of emotional information. A font of pain, joy and intent.

The photo you see at the beginning of this post is my face a few years ago. My depression has been persistent and in some ways, it is worse than it was at the time I took this picture, but I am also working much harder to tackle it than I was back then.

I notice the emptiness, the exhausting droop that has always been characteristic of my sloping lashes. I notice the unfocused, drowning brown iris and the tired pucker of my lower lash line.

I suppose I wanted to make a point in this post, that depression as characterised by the internet or the media is so much more dramatic, superficial and comical than it is in reality. It fails to observe the sinister absence of presence, the artificialness of gaze, the ‘nobodies home’ glaze that really depicts the illness.

I think this is what frustrates me about perceptions of depression as an illness, as if it is personified by the ugly mask of tragedy, comedies miserable brother, when in fact, its depiction appears far closer to comedy than true misery.

How can we win more support for depression, more seriousness and thoughtfulness, when we are bombarded by ludicrous, sensationalised and dramatic visual depictions of it?

The fact that images of blubbering and anguish pervade the search terms suggests we have a long way to go before people begin to really understand what depression entails and how those who cope with it chronically have experienced it.

Depression is sometimes sadness and crying, I’ll admit that, but it goes so much deeper than that. It’s an affinity with death that the living who have not felt it’s dark grasp, will struggle to ever understand. For how can we understand death, unless we no longer feel alive?

J

5 Signs Your Life has Become Overwhelming and How to Begin Restoring Balance

You wake up, having not slept restfully for a week now. Your thoughts are dim and dreadful. They simmer at first, then a slow-boil turns to froth and foam and flying spit in your mind’s pot.

How will I get everything done today? There is nobody to help me. What is happening? How do I stop it? The world is out to get me. I am struggling. What can I do?

Splish, splash, schloop, go the thoughts inside your head as you watch from above. There is no saving this soup now, spoiled for good. Let it all burn.

Many can relate to that boiling pressure underneath the surface. It can lead to outbursts, uncharacterful behaviour and alienation, both for the person experiencing the feeling of being overwhelmed, and for the people close to them. Here are five signs that you’re not coping well, and some suggestions to fix it.

1. You’re Acting ‘Out of Character’

We are all creatures of particular habits. Some of us are quite reserved and don’t go out very much, others are very much the opposite, seeking social events everywhere they can and many opportunities to be the centre of attention. When you notice your typical behaviours are reversing and flying to the polar opposite of your ‘normal’, you know there’s something up. As in the examples above, someone who is quiet and calm, with a smaller social circle, might decide to get drunk every night and meet strangers. This can sometimes be hard to spot from the perspective of the person who is feeling overwhelmed, but family and friends should make every effort to monitor this behaviour and offer support where possible.

2. You Don’t Care Anymore

Generally, you’re empathetic, kind, a listener and someone who is compassionate to the needs of those around you. Lately though, you’ve been feeling kind of ‘meh’. You see people in strife and it’s just not twanging on that cardio banjo in there. You know you should be feeling something, but you’re struggling to get that emotion to translate. No, you’re not a sociopath, you’re just going through a rough patch and sometimes this can make you appear distant, callous or unfeeling. It’s the people who care the most who tend to lose this ability most drastically under pressure.

3. You’re Getting Irritated by the Smallest Things

Did your housemate eat your last banana? Did someone take your usual seat on the bus? Are you about to burn to ash over the news that petrol prices are going up? Do these questions make you feel like wielding a sledgehammer of destruction, like a malevolent Thor, brimming with spite and rage? Thinking about how proportionate our responses are to the perceived inconvenience, of course, at a time when we have calmed down, can sometimes give us the opportunity to reflect on how overwhelmed we feel.

4. Australian Animal Syndrome

Like the black widow, who hides in people’s toilets to bite their buttocks, and the koalas climbing from the bush below, we begin to do one of two things, bury ourselves, or attempt to escape out of our situation. Are you hiding from your problems, getting poisonous when people enter your personal space? Or, are you fleeing up into the canopies? Hiding or running can be a surefire way of knowing you’re overwhelmed and in need of intervention.

5. Your Opinion Of People Begins to Change

People you have held dear for years can begin to become ugly in your mind’s eye. You begin to create gargoyles where angels once stood, and by the end, you are surrounded by warped caricatures of the people you once loved. This is a very disturbing and unsettling mechanism related to being in a state of overwhelm, that can begin to unravel your sense of identity, purpose and happiness. If the people you cared about are no longer friends, loneliness can set in and begin to eat away at your joy.

So, now you have a few ideas about what being overwhelmed looks like, here are some important interventions to think about, so that we don’t continue feeling this way.

Be Honest

Speak to the people around you that you feel you can trust. Tell them that you do not feel that you can cope and ask for any guidance, support or assistance they can give you. If they cannot, try not to take this personally, it may be that they have a lot on their plate too. Try to approach people who you feel will be compassionate and understanding to your plight, as some people can make their problems seem more important, which will only make you feel worse.

Seek Support Networks

At school, work or university, make sure to access any available resources. For work, it might be some time off sick, or booking a few days holiday. At school, seeing the school counsellor or speaking to a teacher you trust might help you on the path to improvement. At university, try to utilise the university counselling services and student support networks. If you’re not sure, bring it up with your personal tutor. Speak to a GP about how you are feeling and see if they can refer you for assistance. And, seek the local charity networks to see if they can help you with additional funded support.

Meditate

Meditation can be a great way to relax and calm down, but it is also an excellent tool to make breakthroughs with seemingly insurmountable life problems. One of the best techniques I find with this, is to visualise a pool, dropping in a question at the height of relaxation and inner calm, without the expectation that it will return an answer. You are trying to submerge the question into your subconscious, so that it can naturally provide you with an answer in a more intuitive way. I find the headspace app is really incredibly useful for this, so go ahead and try it out.

Are You Looking After Your Health?

One thing I begin to notice immediately when I am overwhelmed, is how it so often correlates with slipping into old dietary habits which are not good for my sense of wellbeing. If you are lucky enough to know what kind of diet works for you, then make sure to reflect on this when you feel overwhelmed. Am I cutting some corners? Can I try and cook a proper meal this week instead of dropping into a convenience store for a cheap ready meal. Often our bodies just need that little bit of extra support so that we can deal with what life throws at us.

Give it Time – Like, A ‘You’ll Still Be Here When The Sun Explodes’ Amount of Time

So, now you’ve heard me whittle on about this, that and the other, and it’s either helped you, or left you more enraged than you began (absolutely not the intention, but a hypothetically plausible outcome). Start asking yourself some questions, without demanding desperate answers. Try to give yourself time and the love and support from those around you, even if you feel that they do not always understand. Look after your body and meditate without expectation, as if answers can come between now and the squashification of the universe, which scientists are referring to as ‘the big crunch’.

I wish you happiness, fulfilment and the ability to overcome anything that life throws at you.

J

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Veganism Helped Treat My Depression

Veganism has garnered a reputation as something for radical political youths, hippies and edgy people with colourful hair (which I love, don’t get me wrong). But what is the merit and practicality inherent in a diet that has often been labelled the bad banana in the bunch?

I reached a critical point in my life only months ago. I was suffering with chronic back pain from a slipped disk, mood swings, something I imagine close to hypomania, joint pain in my knees and asthmatic symptoms like severe tightness in the chest. When I was energetic and ‘up’, a lot of these symptoms went away. Every couple of weeks, I would be sure to plunge into ever greater depths of dark depression, which no longer remained contained in my mind, spreading now deep into my bones and my heart and my lungs. My plummeting abyssal thoughts began to twist my body as well as my mind.

I reached a breaking point. I could not bear to go lower. To live in endless cycles of physical and emotional pain, followed by the barest respite of a fickle and uncanny happiness, like there were threads sewn into my lips, pulled up in a wild grin by an evil puppeteer, destined to cut them away and lead me back into doom with a shadowy, hollow cackle.

I started to move towards fixing myself. I did research. I read books and articles. What I discovered was that there appeared to be several links between food allergies (I was food intolerant to dairy as a child and this issue may still persist), chronic pain and mental health. One diet promised to eliminate or drastically reduce the impact of all three.

To the average individual, going vegan may seem drastic. Sadly, I have been to some very dark places in my head. I would eat or drink anything, a laughing periwinkle, ground unicorn patties, the algae on a whale’s back. Anything, to reduce the pain and suffering I was experiencing. When your depression starts to make you feel paper thin, until you start to feel the cracking of your soul, parched, barren and dry, I cannot express the lengths you would go to to avoid that feeling again. It is indescribable.

For me, this was an easy choice.

I feel better.

I am by no means happy every day. That would be impossible. I still have many bad days, but the bad days aren’t as bad anymore. I have more energy. I do not spend so many of my evenings in pain.

I am writing again! I work full time and I STILL spend some of my evening writing and looking after myself. This is an incredible milestone for me. I never expected to feel well enough ever again to write three blog posts in a week. Yet, here I am!

Part of this change will surely be down to my resolution to look after myself, to tackle my fears and insecurities, to grow as a person and to never take life for granted, yet part of that transformation is absolutely about radically overhauling what I choose to put into my body.

My last few blog posts have also been about the impact of meditation and meditation has so far proved extremely helpful in the fight against mental illness. I am tackling this problem from as many different angle as I can. I will not settle and give into my pain and suffering. I will use it to transform myself.

So, there we have it. Veganism is part of my commitment to look after myself. It’s not political, though I am happy to be choosing a more sustainable and animal friendly lifestyle in the process. It’s not to be trendy. I don’t and have never run in trendy social circles. I’m doing this because my research has led me here and I refuse to give into pain and stop fighting for my happiness in this life. Veganism is a commitment to my individual well-being and that is where my stance on the diet ends.

Nevertheless, I do believe that many people could improve their depressive symptoms by trying a vegan diet. It’s naturally low-inflammatory food staples do help to reduce allergic stress responses in the body which absolutely can adversely effect mental health. I won’t stress this too much as I am not a doctor and my research is purely personal, but I do want to share my story so that others may find some respite from their pain in depression.

We are all different. What is helping for me is not necessarily for you, but unless we research and persevere, how will we know what is?

I wish you happiness and good health, and a diet that helps you maintain the best possible head space.

Greenly,

J

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Meditation in a Busy World

It’s been a while since I last blogged about anything on my blog.

I have to admit, my passion for writing had all but dwindled to nothing in recent months, as I battled ever declining levels of physical and mental health. This isn’t the first time I have experienced problems with my mental health, and I am very open about it because I believe that talking about pain, heals. If you’re new to my blog, take a look at some of the background articles which explain why I’m writing.

My joy, my light, was going out.

I always imagine that there are two ways to go when you hit rock bottom. You can either give up and let the darkness take you, or you can make some drastic changes.

I couldn’t bear the next few decades in this state, so I have committed to many things, including radical diet changes. I am now essentially vegan, with the occasional lapse in having a bit of fish or meat at a special meal. I’m working on exercising, really slowly and carefully. I have quite flexible joints, especially in my legs, and so I have to be really careful about how much exercise I do in case I injure myself. The final thing I have committed to, and the topic of this post, is practising meditation, both at home and in the busy world where we spend so much of our time these days.

Keeping these pillars of well being at the top of my priority will be hard, as they are for anyone with a busy, full time job. However, they are necessary, as anyone who has struggled with their mental health knows, the alternative is much worse. I have been to some really dark places because I have not taken the time to look after myself, and it is amazing how much I am beginning to enjoy things lately because I have taken time for self-care. Neglecting our needs and accepting this as the status quo is the road to ill health and misery. With that in mind, I want to talk, briefly, about some of the ways we can employ meditation in our daily lives, when we are at work, or learning or practically anywhere.

Let me give you a recent example that can illustrate the calming benefits of meditation which can, without doubt, become a part of your busy schedule.

Yesterday, I had booked into the hairdressers for a cut and finish. For someone like me, a hair cut can be an uncomfortable experience. Often bustling, busy, loud, raucous places, filled with glaring lights and extroverts, my withdrawn and quiet presence can often curl up, further shrinking from its sizzling energy.

However, I’ve been following some meditation techniques on Headspace, an app for your phone which teaches meditation with a soothing voice and easy to follow instructions.

One of the most powerful things I picked up, were the techniques of listening to the sounds, smells and sensations of nearby space. The sound of your breathing, the rising and falling sensation of your chest. The soft pressure of the cushion by your side, or the mattress, if you decide to lie down.

It helps ground you in space. It makes you focus on now, as opposed to the fear of the future or lamenting the past. To centre yourself is to experience absolute calm. I really recommend trying a little of this out if you suffer from anxiety or depression. It can really help to bring you back to baseline if you are starting to spiral.

And this is something you can do absolutely anywhere.

Going back to my story about the hairdressers. For anyone with social anxiety and a largely reserved personality, these can be daunting places. However, I found myself naturally starting to use the techniques I had learned through meditation, to turn an experience which could be anxiety provoking, into a pleasant and calming 30- 40 minutes.

I found myself breathing steadily and deeply, staring loosely into the mirror in front of me. I started to sense the sounds and sensations around me. The gentle snipping sounds that scissors make by the ear, as my hair dresser carefully shapes and styles my unruly curls. The brief, warmth of body heat as the hair dresser brushes close by, adjusting their position to get at my tangled ends. The sound of foot steps on the hard floor, hurriedly clopping past and the ambient drone of hair dryers near and far.

I slowly began to fade away and lose myself in all the sounds and sensations. I was no longer on the defence against some perceived threat, very much imagined. It is like becoming a piece of furniture in a scene, totally blending in with an orchestra of noise, becoming silent and calm and completely malleable. The sense of you versus the world falls away, as if you were a piece of wallpaper, newly pasted on a busy background. You can become paper thin. Not literally, but in the way that you identify with what, or who you are, against what, or who, anything that isn’t you, is. It’s the active practice of dissolving the ego, a very important task for those who tend to spend too much time in their own heads.

You can really practice this anywhere, especially trying to work with this method in instances where you feel that anxiety may cause you problems. This can be busy places, or during stressful events in life, or perhaps even something like an interview waiting room, where the suspense of waiting to present yourself, can often times seem unbearable.

So there you have it, a little story from me about how observing and attuning our attention to the world around you can turn potentially unpleasant experiences into an opportunity for relaxation and a sense of ‘being’ with your environment, rather than against it. It just takes a little meditation and concentration, but we are all capable of reaping the benefits of calm and quietude, in the turbulence and chaos of modern life.

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